The Freedom from Religion Foundation to Ball State University: cease and desist your religious indoctrination

May 16, 2013 • 5:58 am

If you need some background, have a look at my earlier post about Ball State University (BSU) in Indiana.

At that University resides one Eric Hedin, an assistant professor at BSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. Hedin teaches two courses (actually, probably one course with three different names, “Inquiries in the Physical Sciences,” “The Boundaries of Science,” and “The Universe and You”), one of which meets the science requirement for Honors Students at BSU.  My post reproduced the syllabus of the “science” course, “Astronomy 151, The Boundaries of Science,” which showed that the course was nothing more than a vehicle for purveying intelligent design and Christianity to the students.

Further, three Ball State students at the Rate My Professors site criticized Hedin for proselytizing a Christian viewpoint in his classes; these complaints go back to 2006.  It’s pretty clear that Hedin is simply a stealth Christian, who takes the opportunity in his classes to push his religious views on the students—to the neglect of real science.

When I wrote about this situation, which clearly violates the First Amendment separating religious endorsement from U.S. governmental operations (these include public schools, of which BSU is one), several readers, as well as both P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran, argued that this was not a First Amendment violation for three reasons. First, the class was elective, so students didn’t have to take it. Second, this occurred at a university, not a public elementary or high school, and, presumably, you can violate the First Amendment in university classes.  Third, at universities, “academic freedom” trumps the First Amendment; that is, professors can push whatever religious views they want on their students, even in science classes, for that’s simply the exercise of their “academic freedom.” (I note that all of us agree that Hedin’s classes were insupportable and that he should be told to cease teaching them, though people like P. Z. and Larry seem to feel that the professors cannot be forced to stop teaching what they want.)

I disagree with these arguments.  “Academic freedom” is not a license to teach whatever you please in a classroom, particularly religion.  Imagine how a Jewish student, for instance, must feel when reading Christian apologetics. (One of Hedin’s classes requires reading C. S. Lewis, for crying out loud), and Hedin presents no balance with thinkers who are nonbelievers or of other faiths.) And wouldn’t students feel intimidated to give answers on tests if those answers contravene Hedin’s religious views? If you think professors have the “academic freedom” to teach what they want in classes, imagine a geology teacher teaching Biblical Flood Geology as science, or a professor in medical school teaching homeopathic medicine.

All schools, not just public ones, have the duty to make sure that their students are being taught a balanced curriculum, particularly in science classes where the “truth” is not simply a matter of opinion.  And public schools have the additional duty to ensure that their professors—who, after all, are government employees—do not prosyletize their religious beliefs.

My view is that Hedin should not be fired, but that he should be stopped from teaching any classes that advance his religious viewpoints. If he doesn’t stop, then he should be dismissed.

That opinion is shared by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), whose lawyers, when they became aware of Hedin’s activities, wrote the letter below to the President of BSU, the chair of Hedin’s department, and other BSU officials. It’s a “cease and desist” letter asking for relief from Hedin’s unconscionable proselytzing. And it may well be the first step in a lawsuit against BSU.

If you don’t have time to read it (though you should, for it shows how organizations like the FFRF make their case), here is the case law that nullifies the argument that academic freedom trumps freedom from religious indoctrination (this is taken from the letter; note the mention of “optional classes”). Emphasis is mine:

Another legal issue with this class is Hedin’s active promotion of his personal religious views.  In Bishop v. Aronov, the University of Alabama ordered a teacher, Dr. Bishop, to stop injecting religion into his classroom. Bishop lost a free speech lawsuit challenging the university’s order. Bishop said things like:

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The order telling Bishop to stop such remarks is constitutional. It said:

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The court specifically held that the university classroom “is not an open forum,” and upheld the university’s order that the professor “separate his personal beliefs and that he not impart the former to hius students during ‘instructional time’ or under the guise of courses he teaches in so-called optional classes. Id. at 1071.  The court was “not persuaded that, even in the remotest sense, Dr. Bishop’s rights of free exercise or worship as those concepts are conprehended in constitutional parlance are implicated.” Id. at 1077.

Here’s the FFRF’s full letter, which I reproduce with permission (click to enlarge):

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If anybody from Ball State is reading this: Hedin’s classes are not only unconstitutional, but an embarrassment to your university. Even if you disagree with the freedom-from-religion argument, Hedin’s courses are a discredit to BSU and he should be removed from them or forced to eliminate the religious indoctrination.

Note to others: it appears to be settled law that “academic freedom” cannot, in a public university, be an excuse to teach any damn thing you want.

As I mentioned earlier, I wrote to the chairman of Hedin’s department expressing some of the sentiments above, but he blew me off, arguing that his courses had been deemed satisfactory by University officials. We’ll see if they start singing a different tune now!

88 thoughts on “The Freedom from Religion Foundation to Ball State University: cease and desist your religious indoctrination

  1. All schools, not just public ones, have the duty to make sure that their students are being taught a balanced curriculum, particularly in science classes where the “truth” is not simply a matter of opinion.

    I do not agree with your use of the word “balanced” here. It implies the sort of “he said, she said” malarkey that represents bad journalism. I think schools should teach the best scholarship, and if one “side” falls off the teeter totter of objective inquiry due to lack of balance, all the better.

    1. That’s not what I meant by “balanced.” What I mean is that if one presents a controversial opinion that is unsupported, like intelligent design, one must also present the counterarguments (that would be in a non-science class, of course). What I meant is precisely what you mean: “the best scholarship.” The word “balanced” was perhaps chosen unwisely.

  2. I wonder how those who insist this is a matter of “academic freedom” would react if a professor used his “academic freedom” to teach homeopathy.
    Lilburn Lowell Decker

    1. Indeed or that the Holocaust didn’t happen or that the earth is 6000 years old or that we can grow homunculi or that the universe is not expanding but instead teach Steady State…..

    2. PerZAKly!! Or cosmic geocentricity, or that the universe, Earth and Life have existed for less than 10 thousand years, or that the Holocaust was fabrication…

    3. I agree with Jerry’s stance BUT I’m afraid I will have to go with M & M on this one in terms of the Academic Freedom issue.

      Academic Freedom trumps all and since it is an elective, students have a choice whether or not they want to enroll in the class.

      These are college students now. You can’t treat them like children forever. They are now exposed to a collegiate atmosphere and it is up to them to critically think about every class they take and whether or not what is taught them is bullshit.

      I’m pretty sure that once students smarten up on what actually is being “preached” in that class, they will elect not to enroll in it.

      1. Academic freedom is exempt from truth in advertising? It seems to be this course is masquerading as science. If it was a Philosophy or Theology course I would have no problem with it.

      2. I don’t understand how you can claim “Academic Freedom trumps all”. How far are you willing take that? If proselytizing is ok, what about racism and sexism, are those ok too? Universities are not islands free from law.

      3. These are college students now. You can’t treat them like children forever.

        Quite right – they’re not children. Their own comments about the excessive proselytisation and the discomort they experience as a result reveal as much. They themselves have realised that the course they signed up for is not quite what was advertised. They should be listened to.

        Additionally, while they may not be children, that doesn’t automatically exclude the possibility that some will feel pressured to not give honest answers in assessments or speak honestly during class discussion, lest they prejudice their professor against them – something which, sadly, is not out of the realms of possibility.

        Finally, this is an elective in the field of science. Students expecting scientific content have essentially been defrauded into becoming targets for evangelism. This is both unconstitutional and unethical.

        1. This is both unconstitutional and unethical.

          It is definitely the latter, but I doubt very much if it’s the former.

  3. This is such good news! My favourite part of the letter in quoting the Bishop v. Aronov case:

    The court specifically held that the university classroom is “not an open forum”

    I liked this part because in my opinion, messing up students’ education by teaching them falsehoods is the most insidious thing about the Ball State fiasco. We don’t need more people with bad ideas in the world!

  4. The letter states that “science disproves a creator God”.

    Really now… What evidence exists that “disproves” that notion.

    Same scientism/materialist nonsense. It’s amazing how much propaganda is spewed by the so called reasonable.

    Shameful really.

    1. You are quoting out of context: the letter says this “Many [scientists] take the view that science disproves a creator god.” That is a true statement: many do, although one can contest whether they’re right.

      You’ve taken things out of context in the service of dissing “scientism or materialism.” I expect you to admit that you mischaracterized this letter and apologize.

      1. You are correct sir I did mischaracterize the letter and I do apologize.

        It stood out due to my preconceived notions and grogginess. I posted that from bed. No excuses care should have been taken.

        It is such an odd idea though… Science disproving God.

        I agree with you on this issue though. Creationist arguments are often lacking and shouldn’t have a place in a science classroom.

        If God exists He made this universe and the observations made by science are of what He made not Him. It should affirm Christian faith to study how things work but often we cover our ears and hum when we hear truths. We all as humans do this.

        Confirmation bias is awfully powerful. I would venture so far as to say that even some of the things I believe may very well be a result of my desire for it to be true…

    2. Not only did you take the comment out of context, but indeed there is much evidence against the specific claims of the Judeo-Christian god, against the concept of a god in general, and in demonstrating the human creation of both the concepts of gods and the specific historical origins and evolution of the concepts in Judaism, Christianity, and other Abrahamic religions.

      Simply calling shameful does not negate this evidence.

      Also, simply adding “ism” to words doesn’t negate them or suddenly make them biased. That is simply a cheap attempt at smearing science since you cannot actually win any arguments on the details.

      Science is a method of applied reasoning, and even you use it every day. “Scientism” is like “rationalism” and “reasonism”. To be against them as a means to understanding is to admit yoy are irrational, unreasonable, and unscientific. All that is left at that point is baseless assertion, which is useless as a source of knowledge. Knowledge comes from actual understanding. Simply regurgitating assertions is not a demonstration of knowledge, but of memory.

    3. Besides the weaker, but sufficient, claim that you misread, I don’t think you have done due diligence here. So the shame should be all on your side.

      It has been known since the 70’s at least that cosmology admits universes that are spontaneously produced, and conversely, can only arise thusly. And now both WMAP and Planck has independently found that our universe belongs to one of those classes, inflation cosmologies.

      I’m not sure what signature we would see if the spontaneous process was broken (I’m not a cosmologist). But I have seen the claim that inflation needs gravitational potential energy to balance the rest, so I suspect we simply wouldn’t see inflation happening, affirming the “can only” part.

      Further, LHC has just completed the standard particle sector with the find of the Higgs field, which means that everyday life is protected from magic. No intercessory prayers, no soul and/or rebirth, or other paraphernalia of major creationist religions.

      And that was cooking even earlier, I think the general physics of the vacuum state was understood in the 60’s. Here we would have seen it as an inability to predict QED parameters to 11 significant digits.

      This is a trend break to be sure, because these two independent finds have happened within a year after decades of preliminaries. And it takes time for the implications to bubble up and then percolate in culture. But I think it is safe to say that theism has lost any intellectual, rational, skeptical credibility it had. And those interested in this, i.e apologists, should be on top of this.

      We have a background discussion on the remaining deism, but I think the interested find that it is in dire straits too. For example, the main class of inflation theories that Planck results points too makes most laws a product of the local, spontaneously produced universe. So deist lawmakers doesn’t seem very reasonable to hang on to at the moment.

      Bye, bye, gods, don’t let the door hit you on the way o… oh, too late.

      1. Since I got into the history of this, it may be worse. In the 30’s the general kind of cosmologies that can produce an interesting universe (causal so with physics, and large enough to have stars and life) were discovered.

        Now energy in cosmology is difficult and arguable, so there is no real consensus I think. But it may have come down already then, that we have the situation we have today, but seen over all universes: either you want magic and then you can’t have a universe, or you want a universe and then you can’t have magic.

        In any case, in hindsight magic seems about the worst imaginable idea anyone can come up with.

        1. I have just finished reading Brian Greene’s book “Hidden Realities” which goes through the different types of parallel universes that current physics allows for.
          I had no idea what a wild ride that would be when I started and now my head hurts.
          There is a hilarious scene from the show TBBT where Sheldon disses Mr Greene about this very book saying “why don’t you do something useful and read to old people” and then says, “just kidding; big fan”.

          1. It was actually even funnier on TBBT: have you ever considered doing something useful like reading to old people but not your books, something they might like. 😀

    4. Deliberate distortion of statements is what ought to be recognized as really shameful. Valid claims are served by objective accuracy. Invalid claims, on the other hand, fail to survive objective scrutiny. These ultimately undermine the intentions of the dishonest agent who employs such scurrilous tactics. It too often takes too long, but eventually the cumulative effect of this typical example of lying for one’s supernatural belief notions will prove more of a hindrance to recruiting and retaining fellow believers than a useful tool for sustaining the belief system. Anything that calls itelf a belief system, as religions must to account for their untestable claims, is a plague on truth from the outset.

    5. Really? Quote mining a letter that we can read just by scrolling up?

      You’re going to have to better trolling than that.

      Shameful, indeed.

      BTW, and not to get too deep into the particulars: Science positively disclaims any “known” god associated with the major religions.

      The only “god” that science cannot disclaim are the Spinoza-type “set the wheels in motion then leave” god or Karen Armstrong’s “ground of all being” god.

      Neither of those gods demands worship, nor tithes, nor do they offer opinions on the status of the bacon cheeseburger.

      In fact, Armstrong in particular seems to be content with redefining “god” as “nature”. OK. As long as I don’t have to go to her church on Sunday and talk about how much that god doesn’t do.

    6. “Propaganda” can be simply and dryly defined as “presenting an exagerrated, magnified or purely fictional picture of the merits or flaws of an entity, idea or object”.

      Much like your comment does to the above letter.

      However, I simply choose to call your comment “petulant cherry-picking bullshit.”

  5. I might take a sort of libertarian approach to this.
    Yes, the professor does indeed have the academic freedom to teach whatever he/she wants in classes.
    The Dean or department committee has the academic freedom, authority and responsibility to kick the professor out of the university if the professor isn’t satisfying the need she/he was hired for.

    At the same time, I want Hedin and his chair removed for incompetence/deceit.

  6. There simply have to be limits on “academic freedom”. Is it really the case that a professor can decide his class time will become dedicated to a Monopoly tournament, retaining the same course name, fulfilling the same major requirements, and there is nothing the university can do about it? That would be absolute madness. Breaking the law in the fashion Hedin’s class does has to qualify on such limits.

    People can learn this kind of tripe from non-government funded religious institutions like Liberty University, if they feel the need. There is no way proselytizing like this could ever ethically be applied towards a science requirement at any reputable institution of learning, much less one funded in part by tax dollars.

    1. Is it really the case that a professor can decide his class time will become dedicated to a Monopoly tournament, retaining the same course name, fulfilling the same major requirements, and there is nothing the university can do about it?

      The issue isn’t whether the university can do something about it — you’ll note that the FRF letter actually presumes that the university can do something about it. The question is whether what the prof is doing is actually illegal. I’m not clear that it is.

  7. I realize my opinion is different from yours, but I think you are unfairly describing the arguments of your ‘opponents’ in order to more easily discredit them.

    “…several readers, as well as both P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran, argued that this was not a First Amendment violation for three reasons. First, the class was elective, so students didn’t have to take it. Second, this occurred at a university, not a public elementary or high school, and, presumably, you can violate the First Amendment in university classes. Third, at universities, “academic freedom” trumps the First Amendment; that is, professors can push whatever religious views they want on their students, even in science classes, for that’s simply the exercise of their “academic freedom.”

    I accept the first reason, but you can go further and state that no person is required by the government to attend university. That is not the case for K-12 education. These adults are not forced or mandated to take the course. This latter issue is something you yourself highlight regarding the Mississippi high school post earlier.

    The second argument is problematic to me. Larry and PZ did not suggest that you can violate the first amendment in classes, although it’s possible some readers did. You think the situation at Ball State is a first amendment issue, they do not. Since they do not think it’s a first amendment issue, they are not espousing the viewpoint that it’s ok to violate the first amendment.

    I’ll make the same argument for your third reason. No one that I recall is saying academic freedom trumps the first amendment. You are taking your viewpoint, that this is a first amendment issue, and imposing that on the arguments others are making.

    I appreciate your position, but I think you are making strawman arguments to bolster your position. The academic freedom issue being noted by Larry and PZ is worth considering. You may completely disagree with it, but there is no need to distort their arguments.

    1. Sorry, but I don’t think I’m distorting the arguments of P.Z. and Larry. First, no student has to attend high school past a certain age in many states, so therefore it could be okay to teach religion to, say, seniors. In many states that age is 16, which takes you only two years into high school. That leaves two years left. In those cases attendance is optional, for you are not compelled to go to school after that. Yet it’s illegal to proselytize for faith in any high-school class, some of which are limited to juniors and seniors.

      Second, P.Z. and Larry both noted or implied that the First Amendment did not apply in universities:

      No, sorry, not right — academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective. The first amendment does not apply; this is not a course students are required to take,

      The FFRF says the First Amendment does apply, so yes, academic freedom trumps the first amendment. P.Z. has simply mistakenly interpreted the law, at least according to the FFRF.

      Ergo you can violate the first amendment in classes. What else can that mean? P.Z. also notes that perhaps no more action can or should be taken against Hedin:

      . . . .there’s not much you can do, except what Ball State seems to be doing. Put the person into low level service courses where they have to teach students something basic, like algebra, where their weird views can’t do much harm. Or give them some non-majors elective where they aren’t going to have much influence. I notice in Hedin’s courses that he’s only teaching low level courses and honors/interdisciplinary courses. It looks like maybe the department is doing their best to isolate a problem.

      Larry said this:

      I defend the right of a tenured professor to teach whatever he/she believes to be true no matter how stupid it seems to the rest of us.1 I’m troubled by the fact that some people are calling for the instructor’s dismissal and writing letters to the chair of his department. We really don’t want to go down that path, do we? Academic freedom is important and it’s especially important to defend it when a professor is pushing a view that we disagree with.

      and this:

      Is he right? Does the US Constitution really specify that you can’t advocate a religious viewpoint in a university classroom? That’s very scary. It probably means that you can’t criticize religion either.

      Yes, Larry, it does seem to specify that, at least according to the FFRF.

      As far as I can see, both posts claim what I said they did: academic freedom trumps the First Amendment. If it didn’t, the the First Amendment would apply and Hedin’s behavior would be illegal and banned, which both Myers and Moran say should not be the case.

      If anything is clear here, it’s that both commenters think the First Amendment doesn’t apply in universities (which is wrong, as the FFRF letter implies), and that therefore academic freedom trumps the need to prevent professors from proselytizing in classes.

      If it’s settled law says that Hedin is violating the first amendment, and it seems to, then yes, P.Z. and Larry are saying that it’s okay for a professor to flout that in the name of academic freedom.

      Look, this is a legal issue, though I still think that Hedin needs to be removed from those courses, which contrasts with Larry and P.Z.’s opinions. I don’t want to get into a “he said” “he said” debate about this, as it fosters unneeded antagonism toward two people I respect, so I will say no more, and you’d be wise to do the same. Readers can look at all the posts and judge for themselves.

      1. “Put the person into low level service courses where they have to teach students something basic, like algebra, where their weird views can’t do much harm.”
        Gollolllolleeeee!! The Dean made me the Permanent Latrine Orderly!!!!!

      2. The letter from FFRF’s staff lawyer is very good, and I’m glad that the letter cited the Bishop v. Aronov case, which is one of the few cases on point where a state-supported college or university was involved.

        Please note that in Aronov, a student or a civil rights organization did not sue the university in order to stop the teaching of religious content in the course, or to shut down the course. The university (correctly) determined that its own pedagogical standards trumped “academic freedom.”

        The interesting question here is whether Ball State will blink and do what it has the right to do, and what FFRF is asking to be done.

        I’ll stick to my own position that it would be difficult for FFRF or a student to successfully sue Ball State on Establishment Clause grounds in order to force the University to remove the religious apologetics from the course or to transfer the course out of a sciences department and into a humanities department. It would be easier for a student to sue the University on the grounds of misrepresentation about the nature and value of the course content and the concomitant time wasted.

        There was a 2008 law journal paper (Frank S. Ravitch, “Intelligent Design in Public University Science Departments: Academic Freedom or Establishment of Religion, 16 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 1061 (2008), that discussed, among other things, whether coercion or compulsion would exist, and therefore whether an actionable Establishment Clause violation would exist, if a purely elective college or university course categorized as a “science” course was replete with religious and creationist polemics. Reasonable legal minds can disagree on that narrow issue.

  8. I would suggest a different tack, one that avoids both First Amendment and (most of) the academic freedom argument.

    Presumably, Ball State has a curriculum. Classes are approved by the department and the university and specific course objectives are outlined when courses are approved. Such curricula are probably loosely defined, without a great deal of details, but there should be some predetermined criteria on which to judge whether or not Prof. Hedin is meeting the curricular requirements.

    If he his not, he should be told to either shape up or stop teaching those courses. If the curriculum is so loose that such a judgment cannot be made, Ball State needs to redefine its curriculum.

    Yes, professors have a great deal of freedom in what exactly they teach, but they still have to conform with the department’s and the university’s curriculum to ensure that the overall education provided the students is of sufficient breadth and depth. A science course that proselytizes and does not present scientific viewpoints does not do this.

    1. I agree, but the problem is that BSU seems to have rather loose curriculum requirements. BSU should be shamed into tightening them up.

      But I would hate to see this become a FA issue. We would very much risk throwing out a baby with the bathwater.

    2. A science course that proselytizes and does not present scientific viewpoints does not do this.

      This seems to me to be beside the point. There is nothing special about a science course that proselytizes, that would be illegal in any course that is funded by taxpayer money. I don’t know why people are focused on the curriculum, it would be just as illegal to promote Christianity, (or rather, one specific sect of it), in a comparative religion class as in a science class.

  9. If the contents of a course do not fit in with the teaching needs of the college or university, the department’s or school’s needs take precedence. If the faculty (including non-tenure-track part-timers) are adequate for the required courses, other courses can be taught. But they must be taught honestly.

    For years, the professor who taught ornithology at Indiana University-Bloomington was a knowledgable bird-watcher whose primary appointment was at the law school. But everone seemed happy with this arrangement.

    Unfortunately, the departmental powers-that-be seem to be comfortable with Prof. Hedin’s one-sided religious content in his honors class.

  10. IANAL but Bishop vs. Aronov does not seem like a very good precedent. From your description, its about the school’s rights to discipline an employee – not the professor’s free speech rights. I would be surprised if anyone was arguing that the school is not within their rights to prevent this guy from teaching such classes in the future. Of coures they are. The question is whether they are legally required to.

    I think FFRF is going to lose.* Like it or not, the courts currently allow collected taxes to indirectly support religious teaching: religious charities can receive tax breaks, religious schools and charities can compete for government grants, and so on. So the mere fact that Ball State is funded by Indiana isn’t enough to make this illegal. Also like it or not, the courts do seem to treat opt-in education differently than opt-out education – which is why I think your response to Lorax @10 is not convincing. Yes, techincally HS is a choice for some students. But the system is generally coercive even if there are ways to opt out. This is substantially different from the university system, where individuals have to go to a lot of effort merely to attend, and there is zero state coersion involved. The courts have seen that difference as relevant to past education cases, and whether one thinks they should or not, I’m sure they will do so again here.

    Now, I do think this prof. is acting highly unethically by misrepresenting his course and material, and IMO he seems to be being intentionally deceptive about it. The school should put a stop to that immediately. It hurts their students to have a professor passing crationism off as fundamentals of science. I’d frankly say if the guy wants to teach creationism, let him – but in a higher level elective, in a class clearly labeled as such, and probably in a different department.

    *”Lose” only in the court sense. I suspect part of the purpose of this lawsuit is to spur Ball State into acting on its own, before the courts ever get involved. If that’s the case, I’d say that the FFRF lawsuit has a pretty good chance of accomplishing its purpose.

    1. Incidentally, while I may disagree with you on your first and second points, I agree with you on the third. ‘Academic freedom’ is a lousy and irrelevant defense for this prof. IMO academic freedom is primarily about the freedom of researchers to pursue unpopular research – of course the university has a right to set the curriculua for the majors they offer. How could it be otherwise? Seriously, can anyone make a cogent argument against that simple statment?

      Moreover, even to the extent that ‘academic freedom’ should include allowing professors to teach non-mainstream views, it cannot reasonably be interpreted to mean the right to teach a position wrongly, or to engage in academic false advertising. The first is unethical for the school to allow, and the second is unethical for a professor to do. Hedin appears to be doing both; teaching how to do science wrongly and advertising a class on the fundamentals of the scientific method yet actually spending the class time to teach ID creationism. Its a no-brainer to me that the university administration should bring the hammer down on this guy. (But at the same time, I would disagree with you JAC that what he’s doing is a violation of the 1st amendment).

    2. I agree — when you boil it down, the actual legal argument the FFRF is making is extremely weak. This case isn’t at all about “academic freedom”, which, when it is legally defined at all, is essentially about the specific contractual terms that each university has negotiated with its faculty. The case is really about whether anything unconstitutional is going on, and I just don’t see how one can successfully argue that.

      1. As a lawyer, I characterize FFRF’s legal argument as weak, but not extremely weak. FFRF is bluffing in order to cajole Ball State into doing what it clearly can do: to order Hedin to remove the exclusively pro-Christian apologetics and creationist crapola from his course(s). Ordering Hedin to do that, or firing him if he refuses to do so, would not be a violation of Hedin’s Free Exercise rights or his “academic freedom.” That is the conclusion that Bishop v. Aronov supports.

        But it is a stretch to move on to the proposition that Hedin’s teaching of what he is “teaching,” and Ball State’s passive acquiescence, are “illegal” or a violation of the Establishment Clause. For an Establishment Clause violation to exist, there has to be some state-supported compulsion or coercion involved (This element is always present in public schools during the school day because of compulsory attendance requirements; it is also present in the Ten-Commandments-in-the-county-courthouse cases where citizens must enter the building in order to do ordinary business with local government).

        A student who takes one of Hedin’s courses chooses to do so. If there is any coercion, it must be indirect, in the form of the difficulty or impossiblity of dropping the course, etc. once the student finds out about the guanophrenic religious content of the course. It would not be easy to prove coercion here. This is why FFRF’s letter dances around the issue of an Establishment Clause violation and chooses the path of least resistance: lobbying the university to rein Hedin in.

        1. As a lawyer, I characterize FFRF’s legal argument as weak, but not extremely weak. FFRF is bluffing in order to cajole Ball State into doing what it clearly can do

          Right, they’re bluffing as to the strength of their legal argument, which is practically nil, and therefore extremely weak. They’re limited to cajoling because they don’t have an actual legal case against Ball State.

  11. I’m also going to have to agree with M and M on this. In the lawsuit against Bishop it was brought against him on behalf of his dept which had ordered him to stop teaching crap – an order he refused. In this situation Hedin’s dept seems to have no problem with what hes teaching…so I dont see how an outside party can get involved. Its not a first ammendment violation – the 1st just isnt relevant

  12. so I dont see how an outside party can get involved

    An Indiana taxpayer wouldn’t be an outside party. Their taxes are going to support Christian indoctrination.

    1. SCOTUS has ruled that merely being a taxpayer does not give you legal standing (to sue over a tax expenditure you disagree with), when you’re talking federal or state taxes. The fed case was in the 1920s and the state case was in 2006.

      There is something called the Flast test; if you pass that, you can have standing. Also you generally have standing to sue for more locally-levied taxes. And, of course, a state can write standing for taxpayers into its laws if it wants – the SCOTUS cases only say that you don’t automatically get it, not that you can’t be given it.

      1. But, of course, this isn’t merely an expenditure that someone disagrees with, but an unconstitutional use of taxpayer funds. Which satisfies the standing issue.

        1. But its almost certainly not going to be ruled unconstitutional; the government funds all sorts of religious teaching indirectly, by funding religious charities and such.

          If you’re making an argument about the way things legally ought to be, I have little issue with what you’re saying. If you’re making an argument about what the 1st amendment is interpretd by US courts today, I think you’re pretty clearly wrong.

          1. This is a far cry from religious charities, which hardly qualify as “religious teachings.” I’m saying that an Indiana taxpayer would have standing to challenge the constitutionality of this public expenditure. Are you saying that no one would have standing to challenge it?

            1. You’re setting up a false dichotomy. IMO no, an Indiana taxpayer will not have standing merely because they are a taxpayer. When there is a first amendment violation in a publicly-funded classroom,* the FFRF and ACLU and the like must search for a student or parent/guardian of a student to sue, precisely because you are wrong about that. As far as I can tell, merely being a taxpayer doesn’t make you an injured party in the legal sense. If you were right and it did, the FFRF would not be looking for student plaintiffs right now in another case (this one).

              Now, if you disagree with my analysis, perhaps you can explain why the FFRF is looking for students, parents or other people at the football game mentioned when, according to you, any Texas resident would do.

              *I’m not saying this is the case here. I don’t think it is a violation and I don’t think the courts will see it as one. However, the question of standing is somewhat separate and for sake of argument, we can say even if it is, you’re still wrong about standing.

    2. Not true tomh. If it were this easy, anyone could sue a high school in Mississippi that forces the kids to go to a Christian presentation. But that is not the case, only the kids/parents of the kids have standing.

      1. It depends on the situation. The Washington State Supreme Court, in Calvary Bible Presbyterian Church of Seattle v. Board of Regents of University of Washington, a case involving a Bible as Literature course, granted standing to two individuals solely because they were Washington taxpayers. It’s not cut and dried.

        1. No, you’re wrong about that. That case was argued and won based on Washington State law, not federal law. From the transcript, via Washington’s ‘find a case’ site: “Plaintiffs contend that the teaching of English 390 is violative of article 1, section 11 and article 9, section 4 of the Washington State Constitution, which provide…”

          As far as I know, federal first amendment cases have never seen ‘mere’ state taxpayers as legitimate plaintiffs for school first amendment cases – either HS or University. You’ve got to have been subjected to the speech itself, or a legal guardian of someone who was.

          1. No, you’re wrong about that. That case was argued and won based on Washington State law, not federal law.

            Wrong about what? I said it was in the Washington State Supreme Court, I didn’t say anything about federal law. I gave it as an example of a court allowing standing to a taxpayer, in a case that contended that public funds were being used at a public university to further a sectarian doctrine, contrary to the WA Constitution and the US Constitution. The court disallowed standing for the two churches as plaintiffs, but allowed standing for the two pastors as plaintiffs for they “have standing to sue as taxpayers without further showing of interest;”

            I didn’t say this was federal law, or that it was binding in Indiana, just that it’s not unheard of for a taxpayer to be allowed to bring suit on constitutional issues. It’s possible that an Indiana court would agree.

            1. I have argued cases before the Indiana appellate courts. Trust me, the Indiana state courts would not be any quicker to find that a Hoosier taxpayer has standing in an Establishment Clause lawsuit (under the corresponding provision in the Indiana state constitution) than a federal court would be to find that a taxpayer has standing in a similar federal case under the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

              The standing requirement has been interpreted quite restrictively in recent federal cases, one of which originated in Indiana (Hinrichs v. Bosma, 506 F.3d 584 [7th Cir. 2007]). Finding a lack of standing (a lack of a “particularized injury” to the taxpayer plaintiff) has long been a clever but cowardly way for a court to dismiss a case where the constitutional violation is egregious, but without reaching the merits of that issue.

              A college student who takes one of Hedin’s courses and finds that her time and tuition money has been wasted would probably having “standing”; but that student would have a tough time proving one of the elements on the merits of an Establishment Clause claim: the element of coercion or compulsion.

            2. If your point is that it is theoretically possible for an Indiana taxpayer to have standing if there is some law on the state books that grants it, or if they find some very friendly judge who will apply a non-mainstream definition of standing to the case, then I agree – those are possibilities.

              But (a) I am highly skeptical either of those circumstances will apply here, and (b) I took your original @16 post at face value, as arguing taxpayers do have standing as a general principle. If you were always arguing theoretical possibility under a set of special circumstances, I apologize, that was unclear to me.

              1. I agree with eric, I think. Under current federal standards of “standing to sue” for an Establishment Clause violation, most forms of “state action” — e.g., the use of state tax revenues for the general support of a state university, or to pay for “In God We Trust” license plates, or to pay the modest salaries of state legislators who engage in expicitly sectarian Jesus-lovin’ prayers during legislative sessions — are not going to present the sort of particularized injury to a plantiff taxpayer that is required in order for that taxpayer to have standing and for his or her federal court lawsuit to survive a motion to dismiss. It’s not fair, but it’s the dodge that the federal appellate courts (Circuit Courts of Appeal and U.S. Supreme Court) have adopted in order to allow continued government coddling of vague religiosity in general, a/k/a “ceremonial diesm.”

                In contrast, in cases involving officially organized or led prayer or relgious rituals in public schools, it is easier for a student plaintiff to establish standing because the coercion or compulsion (and the risk of being shunned or ostracized by peers for not joining in) is more direct.

                Not so with a college student who takes an elective class. Unless the student who is dismayed by the non-scientific content is prevented by university rules from dropping the course, it’s damned difficult to show coercion. If a dissatisfied B.S.U. student hired me to sue the University, I probably would include an Establishment Clause element in the complaint, just for the sake of completeness. But I would emphasize and rely most heavily on cuases of action for misrepresentation and breach of implied warranty — claims that don’t depend on or have any diret connection to the Establishment Clause. I certainly would not argue that the course content itself is “illegal.”

  13. “imagine a geology teacher teaching Biblical Flood Geology as science, or a professor in medical school teaching homeopathic medicine.”

    Sadly, one does not have to imagine professors in medical school teaching homeopathy. Uncritical teaching of homeopathy and other such woo is all too common and politically correct in medical schools. The problem has been aptly named quackademic medicine.

  14. WEIT commenters who support the FFRF’s actions in this matter (and others) should subscribe to their organization. It’s cheap and rewarding: FFRF talks the talk and walks the walk.

  15. I graduated from Ball State with a BS in biology several years ago. Never knew of this guy. I did however do research as an undergrad for a professor of immunology who did not accept evolution. During the brief conversation we had about this she invoked intelligent design arguments but I have reason to believe that in fact she believed in Adam and Eve. To my knowledge these views of hers never entered the classroom. She was a great teacher of immunology though. As were all the professors I had for science courses there.

  16. Frankly, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with this course being presented — even in a public university — if it were not advertised as a science class.

    Religion class? Fine. Have at it. All religion classes are about myths. These are some of the myths about science.

    Science class? Oh no. We have higher standards in the science curriculum than to recount myths.

    It’s the department chair who needs to be raked over the coals for this.

    The instructor can get his class renamed in the “Philosophy and Religious Studies” department and be just fine. No academic freedom violated. Although students would still be at a disadvantage of being taught complete and utter lies. But somehow, if someone is in the “Philosophy and Religious Studies” program at Ball State, I can hardly see how it would matter. Or how you’d be able to distinguish one set of lies from another.

    1. I would tend to agree. IMO a significant chunk of this issue stems from the professor’s misrepresentation – and the fact that it looks pretty intentional.

      1. But “misrepresentation” isn’t unconstitutional, or even necessarily illegal. (Hell, there are plenty of classes I took in university that were nothing like what was in the course description.)

        1. I agree. As I said above, I think if it ever came to court, the FFRF would lose.

          I do think (and hope) the publicity and threat of suit will prompt Ball State to do what they should be doing anyway. And if that happens, it will probably be a very good investment of resources for the FFRF, and I’ll be happy for that result.

  17. From the American Association of University Professors statement on Freedom and Responsibility:

    “It is the mastery teachers have of their subjects and their own scholarship that entitles them to their classrooms and to freedom in the presentation of their subjects. Thus, it is improper for an instructor persistently to intrude material that has no relation to the subject, or to fail to present the subject matter of the course as announced to the students and as approved by the faculty in their collective responsibility for the curriculum.”

    I think this is where Hedin goes astray

  18. I wonder if the professor would be an advocate for free speech if astrologists were teaching their biases as astronomy?

    1. If you mean free speech in the legal sense, I would be.

      Keep in mind that the agument here is between people who think this idiocy is constitutionally illegal and those who think this idiocy is legal and requires an institutional (university-level) fix. As far as I can tell, everyone (on Jerry’s web page, at least) is agreeing that it IS idiocy and DOES need to be fixed.

  19. The course is a blatant ID course situated in an honors science degree. Let’s hope this letter gets the university to detoxify the degree by putting the course somewhere where it belongs – like the trash can.

  20. While I agree it may not be a First Amendment issue, as long as BSU is not publicly funded at tax payer’s expense. I do however think it is a breach of contract.
    If I pay for tuition at a University of “higher” Learning, and specifically assign my funds to a course provided for, and overseen by, the Department of Physics, then one should expect that the curriculum would not violate all known physics.

    I’m not saying Eric Hedin should be fired, but he must be immediately transferred to the Art Department. Since Art is the depiction of a completely contrived reality, then where else but the Art Department should Eric Hedin be professing his expertise?
    In addition, since comparative religion is the only type of religion that should be taught by an institution which aspires to any semblance of an ethical framework for its students, then Eric Hedin should teach, not just Christianity, but must teach all religions in his Art class.
    Who knows, maybe time spent showing the comparative aspects of unbiased religious teaching will give Eric Heden the skills necessary to reapply to the Physics Department at a later date.
    Once he recognizes how comparative analysis can be of such value to a competent science teacher.

    1. Is there a certain reason why life lost its ability to emerge spontaneously?

      Yes, any nonlife stuff tends to be food for stuff already alive. And it appears hisorically to require fairly specific circumstances and lots of time for nonlife stuff to develop into life.

      That said, scientists are getting closer and closer to figuring out those circumstances, and the kind of nonlife stuff that might be prone to organizing into life. It’s not at all unlikely that in the next ten years a lab will be able to get nonlife stuff to spontaneously organize into a rudimentary form of life.

      If that were to happen, would you give up your belief in your god?

    1. And that is apropos of what, exactly? I provided some specific information in response to your question, and then asked you a question in response. How about we stick to that thread to keep the discussion on track and clear?

    1. How about directly addressing the arguments I made, rather than reverting to Scholasticism? And how about replying to the thread, rather than creating a new stand-alone comment?

  21. Tulse:
    “That said, scientists are getting closer and closer to figuring out those circumstances, and the kind of nonlife stuff that might be prone to organizing into life. It’s not at all unlikely that in the next ten years a lab will be able to get nonlife stuff to spontaneously organize into a rudimentary form of life. If that were to happen, would you give up your belief in your god?”

    Yes. But…

    There is not much time.

    1. “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

      What is that supposed to mean?

      As for not much time… over 7 months since you posted. Not much time for what?

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